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The Squad effect? How phone-screen sharing could give way to new billion-dollar industries

Andrew Reid
4 March 2019

A version of this article first appeared on Entrepreneur.com on February 21, 2019. 

In a 1999 interview, the late David Bowie made some pretty big predictions about the internet. In the clip, which first went viral in 2016, the late rock icon proclaimed that “the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable.” When the interviewer suggested that the internet is merely a “tool” and a “delivery system,” Bowie pushed back hard, saying that the internet will “crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.”

Flash forward to today, and Bowie’s prediction is absolutely right. The internet changed not just how we consume content, but also what we consume. Twenty years ago, for instance,  no one could have imagined viewers watching other people playing video games—something that millions of gamers do today thanks to the thriving esports industry.

The idea is to let your friends watch your screen—in real time—as you look for memes, create status updates...or even as you browse through hookup apps.

The next type of content that people will consume might be something even more peculiar than video games: other people’s activities on their phones. As recently reported by TechCrunch, a new app called Squad now lets users share their phone screens rather than their faces. The idea is to let your friends watch your screen—in real time—as you look for memes, create status updates...or even as you browse through hookup apps. Squad uses Apple’s ReplayKit, which recently became more available and stable for app developers to use.

Phone-screen sharing is a natural evolution of tech

If we step back and think about the evolution of social media and technology in the past two decades, we’d discover that the emergence of a phone-screen sharing app is inevitable. For one, what Squad delivers is really just another version of livestreaming—a type of content that half of US internet users now consume. And as I previously mentioned, the rise of esports shows consumers do want to watch other regular people do things.

Moreover, the idea of doing activities with your friends online, rather than in person, is becoming more acceptable. A recent study from Reach3 Insights, for instance, shows that among Gen Z, playing the video game Fortnite online has become a natural way of socializing with real-life friends. For many tweens and teens, hanging out online is just as valuable and meaningful as hanging out in person.

The idea of doing activities with your friends online, rather than in person, is becoming more acceptable.

Perhaps most importantly, smartphones have become very intertwined with people’s identities. Because we use our phones for virtually everything today, the activities on our phones tell a lot about us. One of the key reasons why social media became so big is its ability to provide people with a way to express their identity. It’s only natural then that people would want to share what they are doing on their phones as those activities are meaningful signs of their habits, interests and beliefs.

Extending other industries—and creating new ones

The idea of phone-screen sharing opens up a lot of exciting possibilities. Companies, for instance, could use this technology to create apps that let people watch as other gamers play mobile games such as Angry Birds, Candy Crush or Clash of Titans. This may seem like a laughable idea now, but people had the same reaction at the beginning of esports—an industry set to become a $3 billion business by 2022.

My company, Rival Technologies, is in the business of helping companies understand the attitudes, opinions and behaviors of consumers, so I can’t help but think about the implications for market research as well. There’s potential here to get consumers to opt-in to share their phone activities and uncover new consumer insights that way. Rather than relying on web analytics alone, imagine a world where companies could combine that information with survey data and actual footage of people doing things on their phone to get a richer understanding of why people do what they do.

Key to making an innovation like this to work is giving consumers full control of their privacy.

Given the huge interest in mobile ethnography, the phone screen could uncover customer insights that even consumers themselves can’t articulate. That said, key to making an innovation like this to work is giving consumers full control of their privacy, asking them to opt in and being fully transparent regarding the purpose of your research.

An opportunity to be super curious

Time will tell us whether Squad really becomes the next big app that everyone will copy, as TechCrunch is predicting. In my opinion, the emergence of phone-screen sharing is something that technologists and entrepreneurs should seriously look at. We need to be curious about this new technology as it could open up new ways of delivering experiences and engaging with customers. To steal a quote from Bowie from the interview I mentioned earlier, “we’re actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying.” Let’s take this opportunity to dream up what’s next.

Copyright 2019 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

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